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Photos in macOS Catalina

The Photos app in macOS Catalina underwent a major upgrade, bringing many iOS 13 Photos features to the Mac OS. And while Photos retains much of the same user interface as recent versions, the entire app feels snappier, while supporting many new features.

Photos Icon

In this Rocket Yard guide, we’re going to take a look at the Photos app included with macOS Catalina.

What’s New in Photos

The new features in Photos run the gamut from minor tweaks to the user interface to the use of machine learning, a branch of artificial intelligence that concentrates on data analysis to build analytical models. The models allow the Photos app to identify patterns and make basic decisions. Apple is using machine learning in some interesting ways to bring new capabilities to the Photos app.

Photos Curated with Machine Learning

Photos you take that correspond to an event, such as a birthday party, a vacation, a garden harvest, or a first trip to the beach, are automatically highlighted by the new machine learning system built into the Photos app. Events are sorted both chronologically and geographically. Once sorted, Photos creates a cover photo by picking an image, which it then crops, and sets magnification. These cover photos seem to feature people, faces, or pets, depending on the event. Cover photos can also use video or Live Photos.

The intelligence system Photos uses when making the choices for the cover photo images as well as photo previews (see below) appears to be spot on, at least in testing on my relatively small image library. 

Photos Tab

In previous versions of Photos the Photo category displayed images by the time they were taken, and further sorted them by location. This allowed Photos to keep together images that were taken at one location during a single day.

The Photos category also provides access to a tab that allows you to further refine the view by Years, Collections, Moments, and Photos. The macOS Catalina version of Photos has updated the Photos tab to provide viewing options by Years, Months, Days, and All Photos. 

The new Photos tab in the Photos app.
The Photos item in the sidebar displays your image library content by days, months, or years.

Selecting one of the tabs, such as Years, changes how the images are displayed. As an example, you may find a birthday collection containing all the birthday images taken for each year.

Images can contain Live Photos and videos, which will come to life as you scroll through the collections.

  • Years: View all the images you have taken, organized by year.
  • Months: Images, memories, and locations grouped together by month.
  • Days: Your best photos, Live Photos, and videos from each day.

The Years, Months, or Days categories make use of animations and transitions to separate the timeline. You can use these separations to switch between the available views while keeping your place in the timeline.

All Photos View

Use the All Photos view to display your images and videos on a grid. You can zoom in to see large previews of each image or zoom out to see most, if not all, of your image collection. Images on the grid can be displayed in a square format, with machine learning choosing how to crop the images, or they can be viewed in the original format. 

Live Photos and Videos

Live Photos, as well as videos that are included in your image library, auto-play when they come into view. This produces a dynamic display that can be slightly different each time you open the Photos app.

The Photos preferences is where you can enable autoplay of Live Photos and videos.
You can enable or disable the autoplay of videos and Live Photos in your Photos library from the Photos preferences.

Memory Movies

Memory Movies makes the transition to the Mac. You can view Memory Movies you created on your iOS device, and edit the run time, mood, and title. You can sync changes you make to your iOS devices if you’re using iCloud Photos.

Only the Best Shots

Well, not really; all your shots are available to you, but Photos intelligence is used to pick the best shots in a sequence, hide duplicates while showing the best one, and generally help you keep your image library well organized.

Who’s In That Photo?

Machine learning helps Photos recognize who is in a photo and what is happening in the picture. This allows Photos to create collections, such as Memories, that may highlight a person, event, or both.

Photos User Interface

On the surface, not a lot has changed in the user interface; the same overall structure is present. However, the way images are displayed has changed, producing a much more dynamic and interesting visual representation of your image library.

The Photos sidebar is where you will find most of the options for how your library is viewed. Not all of the sidebar items are present at all times; the following are the most common:

Photos: We mentioned the Photos category in the What’s New section, above. This category gives you direct access to your image library, organized by Years, Months, Days, or All Photos.

Memories: Photos scans your library in the background to gather related photos and images into “memories.” Memories let you rediscover past events you may have forgotten about. Photos will create up to three memories a day, depending on the size of the image library.

You can also curate your own memories from photos in a moment, collection, or album.

Screenshot of Photos Memories view
Photos displays collections of images it creates, producing new memories for you to see on a daily basis.

People: Photos scans your image library for pictures that contain people. When the scan is complete (and just a warning: the first time your library is scanned, it can take quite a while), you can open the People collection and see all of your photos that contain friends, family, or loved ones. You can add names to the people Photos found, and the app will know who’s who as you add more images over time.

When you add new images to the library, Photos scans the images looking for people it already knows and adds them to its collection. You can manually identify photos or make corrections if Photos misidentifies someone.

Places: Photos knows about geography, or perhaps it’s better to say Photos can read GPS information that’s part of an image’s metadata. If your camera is GPS capable (iPhones fit this category), or you’ve added GPS information manually to your images, Photos can display thumbnails on a map, giving you a bird’s eye view of where you took each picture.

You can move around the map, zoom in or out, and change how the map is displayed; as a street/terrain map, satellite map, or grid.

Screenshot of Photos map view
Use Places to display your geotagged images on a map.

Imports: View images you imported into Photos, organized by time.

Recently Deleted: This is your Photos trash. Images you’ve removed will be available here should you wish to recover them.

Shared: This sidebar section will contain albums you’ve shared with others.

Albums: This sidebar section will contain albums you or Photos create. Use Albums as an organizational aid to bring similar photos and videos together. Images can be placed in more than one album, and you can create Smart Albums that automatically include images that match the criteria you set.

Projects: If you’re creating photo books, calendars, cards, collages, or other projects involving images from your Photos library, this is the place to keep track of them. Projects supports the use of third-party apps, many of which are available from the App Store.

Photos Library Tips

You’re not stuck with a single Photos library; you can have multiple libraries although only one can be in use at any one time. Multiple Photos libraries can be helpful for organizing images, allowing you to have separate libraries for home, business, projects, and other categories.

Screenshot of Photos Choose Library window
Photos can still open your Aperture libraries even though the Aperture app no longer works in Catalina.

You can also use the ability of Photos to open libraries to gain access to Aperture libraries that can no longer be used in macOS Catalina. Apple has been warning Aperture users that the non-supported app will soon stop working. With the release of macOS Catalina, that day has finally come. There are a few replacement apps available, but often overlooked is the Photos app.

If you just upgraded to macOS Catalina, Photos may be the app to use to regain access to your Aperture library and all the images it may hold. If you exported your Aperture library before you updated to Catalina, you can use the Photos Import feature to add your Aperture images to your Photos library.

If you didn’t export your Aperture library, you can use Photos to open the Aperture library and then either work with your images or export them for use in another app. Once exported, you can also consolidate the images into a different Photos library.

You can find instructions for opening Aperture libraries as well as combining libraries in the Rocket Yard guide:

How to Combine Multiple Photos Libraries Into a Single Library

Where to Keep Your Photos Library

Photos likes to keep your image library on the same drive as your startup disk. But, that’s just the default. You can store your image library wherever you wish: on the startup drive, on a separate partition, or on an external drive. You can find details in the Rocket Yard guide:

How to Manage, Move Your Photos Library to an External Drive

Just One More Shot

That’s our first look at the Photos app included with macOS Catalina, but it won’t be our last. You can look forward to future guides that look at Photos and other image library apps to help you manage your ever-increasing collection of exciting images, and the not-so-exciting ones, too.

If you use the Photos app, let us know what you think of the macOS Catalina version by leaving a note in the comments section below.

Tom Nelson
the authorTom Nelson
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  • I can’t seem to upload photos to Facebook from the photos app on my MacBook since upgrading to Catalina. Any suggestions?

    I run various FB pages, so it’s really annoying. At the moment I’m having to do an irritating loop of airdropping them to my iPad, saving them into the photo stream (they won’t seem to load up from shared folders either). And of course on the iPad I have to use the Facebook pages app instead of the main FB interface, and that has limitations.

    I have a lot of photos on my MacBook and need to hive some off onto other storage, but it was working before the Catalina update….

    • Apple is working on the problem of Safari not being able to upload photos to Facebook. The Easiest workaround is to use Alphabet’s Chrome browser (easily downloaded to your Mac) as I did that and it works well.

      • I spent 4 hours on the phone with two different Apple Support people and they turned it over to Apple “engineers”. Previously I said:
        (Apple is working on the problem of Safari not being able to upload photos to Facebook. The Easiest workaround is to use Alphabet’s Chrome browser (easily downloaded to your Mac) as I did that and it works well.)

  • And still nothing for the families. Still not possible to really share the whole library so each member can see the family photos and keep their own private library. Family sharing is a joke. Does a dev at Apple have a family? Sure not. I’m even not sure they use the app for their private photos.

  • My photo library is located in an external hard drive. After the upgrade to Catalina, my Photos App seems to go through the “restoring” process every other time I open it. This process then lasts about 30 minutes. It’s quite a pain every time I would like to work on organizing photos. Is anyone else experienced this or have you been able solve this issue?

  • So let me see if I’m clear on this.

    A revamp of Photos, and you STILL cannot split or merge libraries?

    A revamp of Reminders and you STILL cannot sort by Priority on an iPhone???

    And I’m going to trust this “new” app with my Aperture libraries?

    No polite words….

  • I want IPhotos back, this is S….
    First I had to worked half a day to get back my photos and then this program is lrelly S… (Do not upgrade to Catalina if it is not a must)
    – If you connect iPhone you have to mark each photo you would like to move to Mac THERE IS NO COPY NEW PHOTOS!
    If you click old photos you have double or triple, it does not tell this.
    In IPhoto they where own line and clicking new photos all new moved.
    – If you would like to copy a picture to an other program (for example Mac e-mail) you can not click right and chose copy / paste, instead you have to open the picture and select / copy / past

  • There is no ability to delete photos. Under Image you go down to Remove 1 Photo from Album. However when I followed that it did not remove the photo. I then went to help and typed in delete and it gave me the option to delete 1 photo. How do I replace the Remove 1 Photo from Album with Delete 1 Photo so that I do not have to go back to help each time I want to delete a photo?

    • Press and hold the command key. You’ll notice the options change from “Remove from album” to “Delete”.

      Note – this also applies to the primary menus (remove/delete can be found at the bottom of the “image” menu).

      Pretty intuitive in my opinion… just wish I didn’t have to spend days figuring this out on my own!

    • Just discovered that if you right-click on one or more selected photos, holding the command key changes several of the commands, including changing “Remove [x] photos from album” to “Delete [x] photos”.

      The command key modifier also affects the primary menu selections (delete photo(s) can be found at the bottom of the “image” menu when command is pressed).

  • “Machine learning” seems like another step in the wrong direction for Apple’s photography program. It furthers Photo’s imbalance as a computer program as opposed to a creative photography program

  • no changes to the editing, same. Photos editing is very basic and really needed an update rather than this social rubbish..

    • Completely agree. Major changes? Nonsense gadgets that are not for real photographers. Not a single change in editing, while in iOs you have now perspective corrections. Very disappointing!

  • I didn’t see any comments about editing. Ever since Apple discontinued Aperture, there hasn’t been any real editing program from Apple. Photos seems focused on Social Media uses and applications, which is what you covered. That’s important for many, but photo editing has taken a distinct back seat. It’s geared for the simplistic now. It’s all well and good, but not what I need.

    Also, the new Music App under Catalina has a bug that prevents Photos from syncing images in folders – a HUGE failure. It only syncs top level photos. If you select “folders” within Photos, and select them to sync, nothing is transferred, and Music will wipe all old synced images that were synced under Mojave.

    FYI – Louis

  • Surely one of the worst photo apps I’ve used as a photographer has not improved and may have become more intrusive with “Machine Learning.” Apple should start over.

  • I took a look at Photos on a Catalina machine in a store. There is still no way to copy location data from one photo and apply it to another as in iPhoto. To do so in Photos, you must choose a location on a map. I’ll stick with iPhoto/Aperture and Mojave for a while longer.

    • VERY good point about bulk copying of metadata in general!

      Yeah, I may never upgrade to Catalina!

      Is this the end of Apple?


  • So FIFTH iteration, and Photos STILL fails to offer users the display option to SORT the entire active library by newest image first!

    Yet Photos on iPhones and iPads offers ‘Camera Roll’ view, always displaying (drum roll), Newest image first!

  • The unfortunate fact about the last few updates is the loss of that great calendar option. I used to make a new calendar every january but starting jan 2019 I was not able to do so.

  • In Photos under the new MacOS Catalina you cannot sort the pictures within an album by name. It you try sort by title it will automatically sort by date. Most picture do not have titles, they have file names given by the camera. This was not a problem prior to Catalina. It I try to show a slideshow it will all be in the wrong sequence. All folder outside Photos automatically sort pictures by name. Windows also sort picture by name in theirs folders and albums.

    • How can they get this so wrong? I have exactly the same problem. Apple support did not seem to realise this was a problem, and after hanging on for 50mins today while they were trying to find out about it, I had to give up as I had important things to do!

  • Good Evening from the French Riviera,

    Would somebody please tell me what function in Catalina the

    “Unable to Upload” item in does ??

    Thank you

    • I’ve the same problem. It looks like these photos CANNOT be edited anymore or modified as Photos as lost touch with them. Some 6,000! photos are affected in my library and I’ve not found a fix for it.

      More annoyingly, it seems that these photos have been taken/removed from my albums.

      Any help or advise? I’m sure it’s a bug but I’m disappointed that Apple hasn’t noticed it in testing and released Catalina like this. Do they not realize that people love their photos and cannot afford missing them?

  • I used to be able to label my photos directly underneath the photo but don’t seem to be able to do this. I like to insert info such as names of various people in photo and their date of birth etc by just clicking in box and entering details I wanted to put in. Help please.

    • Same problem here. I kept rebooting my iMac hoping that would fix it but obviously it’s another glitch in the Catalina OS (which also has taken away my scanners’ abilities to scan)

  • New Photos with Catalina OS cannot sort pictures within the albums by name. You can ask to sort by title, but since most pictures do not have titles but only file names, Photo will next sort by date. This was not a problem prior to the new Catalina.

  • After upgraded to Catalina my photo library doesn’t work anymore: when I open Photo app it updates the library and try to repair permissions of library, but after some minutes I get an error and I can’t open the library.
    Anyone can help me? I’ve a library with a big size and is on a NAS (gigabit ethernet).

    • That’s exactly where i’m at. And i haven’t dealt with the iTunes to Music migration…and i’m a DJ so this is just dreadful. I thought computers were supposed to make life easier…

      • Yup. same issue here. had a 45gb library file that tries to update and later tries to repair the permissions and it fails.

        copied the file local on the mac and reopend it from there and it works fine. tried after updating to copy it back to the nas (synology) but got the same result that it would update (again) and no permissions.

        So now i have this bigfile on my mac…

        will see if i can sync it somehow.. not big fan of timemachine tho but for now i will need to use it in case of failure…

    • I’ve got the exact same problem. External hard drive and Photos just does not work. Even creating a new library and moving to external hard drive doesn’t work and cant find an answer anywhere. Have you been able to figure it out yet?

  • Not able to upload photos to Facebook nor a commercial photo book company. When I click on photos the Photo program disappears. Never had this problem for the last few years. I installed Catalina a few days ago and the Catalina 10-15-2019 update.

    • I’m having the exact same problem. Running Catalina, all updates installed. Frustrating! So far, I’m not a big fan of the new Photos app. Maybe it will grow on me.

  • The new photos program Catalina seems to decide when it wants to sort your photo library. It will only works when power is applied to my MacBook Pro and stops sorting when you disconnect power. You will need to scroll down to the bottom of the screen in photos to see what’s happening …. it has a progress bar to show how it’s progressing and then the display shows : curating best photos … gathering favourites .. composing layout … detecting duplicates .. analysing scenes. Note I have over 33,000 photos with hundreds of duplicates on my Mac … it has taken 5 hours to get just half way through sorting them if you believe the progress bar indication . I am crossing my fingers the program either deletes or at least identifies my many duplicates… Good lLuck

    • I am having this same problem and my computer has been sorting for days from what I can tell. I don’t feel I have gained any ground and the one time I cancelled it, it didn’t look as though I have any Photos library at all. It just disappeared which gave me a heart attack. I had to shut down for it to start all over again. So frustrating. I want to know how long I can expect it to go through this process of sorting.

    • This is happening to me too. I am three hours in on my wait for it to sync so I can hopefully get the photos taken today on my iPhone transferred. This syncing takes to long by hours. I dislike Catalina photos intensely!

  • Now that I have done the upgrade, when I add a person’s name to the photo, it doesn’t recognize the names in the People App of this program?????

    Also, when I go to the People App, it has 35,000 photos it says it has to scan, but it has been days, and I don’t know why this app is working so funky.

    Any insight for me?

    • I have the same problem …

      Apple needs to do something about this asap as it suggests I have to manually rename all people in my library to names that the phots now recognises!!

    • I’m actually having the same problem with the names/key photo selected for each person. My People folder also shows it has the 26,000+ photos, but when I select a person that I know has more than 2,000 photos linked to their name, it displays there are only 700, as an example. So I started going through each person and each one had the prompt above the main picture – “confirm other photos”. So that always found up to 9 additional photos. It seems like after I went through that, all the photos showed up. Hope that helps you.

      However, I’m still having a problem with some pictures that are by themselves at the bottom of the group of people, and when I identify the person, the key photo doesn’t show up, just another random photo for that person. I tried re-establishing the key photo, but no change.

      • I had given over time names to all faces in my 16,000 Photos Library.
        Many faces are turned or have sunglasses or in the case of my children and grandchildren, the faces age over the forty years I have collected. Apple didn’t prepare for that.

        With Catalina, Apple simply discarded all customer face names and replaced them using their (poor) face recognition program. That means that I am now busy re-doing all those sideways and ageing faces.
        I’ve had a conversation with a Senior Apple Advisor called Jeff. He simply denied that all those disappearing face names were due to the Catalina Update. When I pointed out it happened at the exact same time, he answered: “That’s not proof in itself that Catalina did that”!!!
        Now I’m worried that at the next update again a lot of face names will be yanked away by Apple. WHAT ARE WE CUSTOMERS GOING TO DO ???

        • Apple just is NOT what it used to be. I lost a lot from Steve Jobs’ time.
          Photos is one thing but there is also a lot of BAD NEWS since Catalina,
          ie Calendar app, iMovie on Apple TV, iDVD, etc. Steve was object oriented for customer satisfaction in his development approach but Kim is simply money hungry. Maybe we should go back to Windows.

  • Before, using show package contents – you could find your original photos in the Masters folder organised by date imported. Making it easy to copy and backup photos imported from a phone

    Where/ which folder are original images stored in now?

      • They are now stored in the new “originals” folder in folders named 0-9 and A to F. I know this because my cloud backup service suddenly had 2 copies of all photos media adding 1 TB to my backup!

      • me too. The masters folder has disappeared and Photos seems to assign long and complicated file names to what appears to be the masters files in a folder called originals or something like that. that is absolutely it. I bought a MacBook Air 18 months ago to improve my photography but it has been a long slow painful learning experience after years of PCs. My brother, a Mac aficionado, warned me about the failings of the Photos App and this is the final straw for an unnecessarily complicated interface that has now gone haywire. Going to abandon the App especially the download photos facility and just do it all manually from now on.

    • Now they are in Originals folder, BUT Catalina messed with older logical subfolder structure. So now you just see folders from A to Z and from 1 to 9 where ALL your media files ARE RENAMED to random long names. I was so angry when I have figured it out.

      Now it is impossible to find your media without PHOTOS app. And it was maybe Apple´s intention.

      At this moment I have stopped using MacOS for anything other than internet browsing.

  • I used to be able to see my captions/titles under each photo. Now they don’t show that way. Is there a way to make them appear under the photos again?

      • I have been having the same problem and it is driving me crazy. I loved being able to label the photos with names, locations, dates etc below the photo on the main screen. No way to do it anymore. This needs to be fixed!

  • I was using Photos but also still using iPhoto for specific purposes, such as storing scans of old photographs. Today I upgraded to Mac OS Catalina and it does not support iPhoto. How can I access those pix from iPhoto and move them into Photos? Does any body know please??

  • If there is one plea to make to Apple, it is to allow forcing of the photo scanning. The built in logic simply does not work. It takes weeks until my 75K assets are scanned. Don’t know why but the shady concept of running in the background simply does not work and never has for me. It randomly scans some photos and then for days nothing. I am happy to leave my MacBook Pro aside for a week and scan if that is required (doubt it) but not being able to use Photos properly for weeks and nearly two months last time is complete nonsense. Proper answers by support: 0 Unfortunately with Catalina, it started to scan all photos again. Guess what the status is after a day 0 photos scanned, 75 K to go… Sorry, just venting my frustration but this is simple basic stuff. 101 of user satisfaction, let them decide what they need to do and can afford in terms of time.

  • Hello !

    4 Libraries in a external 6Tera HD…

    One containing over 120.000 photos…

    Catalina’s Photo.app can’t open, repair nor fix preferences… none of the 4 libraries open.

    What shall I do ? May be a show package and copy all pictures to another HD and re importing them all in newly created Catalina’s libraries…

    Any suggestions ?

    Thank you
    All the best

  • Some two months before installing Catalina we had cleaned up both our collections of photos (deleting many). We share an Imac with myself as the administrator.

    Following installation of Catalina all the deleted photos have returned; some if not all my wife’s photos appear on my side of the computer; and generally it is an unhelpful shambles.

    Where do I go from here – through the time consuming pain of selecting and deleting several hundred images yet again? And then finding that with the next upgrade they are all back? In the age of film cameras you simply chucked the duff prints into the bin.

  • I think Apple is simply hopeless with their photography apps. In the new update I can not find tab to delete a photo. Was always simple: right click and the menu showed you “delete”. Where now?

  • I have about 100 photos that will not upload in this new platform, yet they did previously.
    Why can I not upload them and place them in albums?

  • Under Catalina Photos doesn’t recognise Exif etc data anymore. That really pisses me off thank you very much! Also f.ex Luminar doesn’t seem to work as a plug in anymore!
    (Mess, is ex Luminar “Can’t save your…try later again”
    Well, it’s been much later now (days) and it still doesn’t!

  • Catalina photos rearranged my “Albums” list into what appears to be a random order designed to frustrate. So when i go to photos, find one i want to add to a specific album, go to “Image>Add to”, all of the albums are in a completely different order than they are in the left hand column under My Albums. and there is no apparent way to arrange them in the correct order. So now, in order to add a pic to an album, i have to scroll through literally 200 or more albums….Who the heck decided upon this little tweak?

  • i just uploaded Catalina and to my amazement find that the new A.I. in Photos has decided which are my best pics and only those are to be displayed…Who are the designers to decide which of my pics, often which are blurred action shots ON PURPOSE, are good enough to be shown? I see from comments that many other folks are annoyed at the A.I. organizing, display and cataloging. Give us more ability to modify and do “photo-shopish” alteration, and less interference and second guessing on the quality and organization. Butt out of my life, Apple

  • My husband did the update but it is stuck in an endless loop. Three days and counting. I haven’t heard of this issue, but I’m not upgrading my own computer till I know what’s going on. Ideas??

  • In the past in photos view I could see all the titles on had put on the photos. Now they ONLY show initially in imports of if I’ve created an album. I liked that I could note if I missed titling a photo. If there is a duplicate you can’t see which is titled.

    I’m also not so sure l like apple making SO many decisions for me as far as albums and such.

  • Some questions:

    Photos on Catalina does a bunch of analysis (people identification, scenes etc); do these sync to iPhone? To another Mac on Catalina with same user account?
    if you export photos, what comes with it in metadata? people?

    • After upgrade to Catalina OS; Photo now duplicate trousands of pictures to my iPhone and iPad when syncronizing. I can not delete the duplicate ones on the iPhone or the iPad. Does anybody have a suggestion how to solve this.

  • I have my Photolibrary organized in subfolders.
    Under Catalina I cannot share a folder with subfolders to Apple TV.

    Has anyone a solution?